The Choice Before Ndi Imo

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By Charles Odibo

At last the electioneering campaign has kicked-off. One state that will be closely watched is Imo State.

The state, which was created in 1976, has largely been in the news for the wrong reasons because of the actions of its Governor, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, who, thankfully, is also completing his second term in office. His leaving office is generating as much furore as his entrance in 2011, on the back of the self-inflicted unpopularity of then governor, Ikedi Ohakim, accused of acquiescing to the humiliation of a Catholic Priest in a state whose population is over 80% Catholic.

If Okorocha is not arbitrarily cutting civil service working days from five to three, he is reported to be coercing civil servants and pensioners to sign-off percentages of their earnings; purportedly setting-up “Imo-Air”; making a mockery of the state by constructing a statue of indicted former President Jacob Zuma of South Africa; creating a laughable Ministry of Happiness and Couples’ Fulfillment (sorry, Purpose Fulfillment); constantly attacking a sacred institution, the church and openly threatening a revered Catholic Cleric, Archbishop Anthony Obinna; publicly admonishing the youth to take to robbery instead of smoking Indian hemp; introducing “iberiberism” into governance lexicon. The outlandish actions are legion.

Worse still, Okorocha is leaving Imo State poorer than he met it in 2011 and this will be a major issue in the campaign that could weigh against the APC governorship candidate . Whereas he claims that Imo does not owe any bank or contractor, available data from the National Bureau of Statistics, Debt Management Office, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, show that Imo’s domestic debt grew from N26b in 2011, when he took office, to N93b at the end of 2016, with no commensurate growth in infrastructure. Whereas he claims to be Imo’s best performing governor till date (including Sam Mbakwe), Imo Economic Development Initiative (IEDI), a group of accomplished Imo citizens reminded him in January that Imo ranks 34 out of 36 states in the ease of doing business and has slipped from 17th position in 2014 to 22nd in 2017 on sustainability and viability indices. They also reminded him that despite his government’s considerable investments into legacy industries like Adapalm, Standard Shoe Factory, Cardboard and Packaging, Resin and Paint factories, they are still comatose.

A recurring contentious issue in Imo governorship race is adherence to the well-known Imo Charter, agreed to by the founding fathers of the state about the sanctity of rotation of the office of the Governor of Imo state amongst the tripod that makes up Imo – Okigwe, Orlu, and Owerri senatorial zones.

Between 1976 and date, Okigwe zone, through the “immortal” Sam Mbakwe and Ikedi Ohakim have held office for 8 years and three months; Orlu Zone, through Achike Udenwa and Rochas Okorocha have held office for 16 years (when Okorocha completes his 2nd term); while Owerri zone, through Evan Enwerem has held office for only one year and ten months.
So, APC’s insistence on choosing its candidate from Orlu zone (Senator Hope Uzodinma) and embattled APGA’s choice of its candidate (Senator Ifeanyi Ararume) from Okigwe zone are therefore ruffling feathers. Owerri zone, which feels cheated, is therefore calling for equity as enshrined in the Imo Charter.

However, over and above these are the electorate’s perception, and thereby acceptability of the candidates for the March 2 epic contest.

To be sure, there are three gladiators, though over 20 political parties are presenting governorship candidates in Imo State. They are Rt. Honourable Emeka Ihedioha who emerged PDP’s candidate after what has been widely acclaimed as the most transparent, free and fair party primary election in Imo state; Senator Hope Uzodinma, who emerged as APC’s candidate after two contentious primary elections, which outcome, the rankled Governor Okorocha is still contesting; and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, whose choice as APGA’s consensus candidate, after three failed attempts to hold a credible primary election, has deeply polarised the party leading to mass defections.

The choice before the Imo electorate is therefore pretty much clear because the three major contenders have name recognition in Imo State – but for different reasons, based on pedigree or perception of character.

Born on 24 March 1965 and educated at University of Lagos, Emeka Ihedioha represented the Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency. He is also the former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.

In 1992, he was appointed Press Officer to then Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Iyorchia Ayu. Barely a year later he was appointed as Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Senate President of that era. He was named as Special Assistant to the Presidential Adviser on Utilities (July 1999), as Special Assistant Media and Publicity to the President of Senate (November 1999), and as Special Assistant on Political Matters to the Vice President (September 2001). He won a seat into the House of Representative as a member representing Aboh-Mbasie-Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency of Imo State in 2003.

Between 2003 and 2007, he served as Chairman, House committee on Marine Transport. Ihedioha is credited with the passage of two key legislations which allowed for increased participation of Nigerians in that sector of the economy.”

In the lead up to the party primary elections in October, a benchmark poll conducted by a renowned Imo state research analyst and former Director of MAMSER in Imo state, Chuks Osuji, revealed that Emeka Ihedioha is the most popular of all the contending candidates in Imo state based on antecedents and name recognition. Expectedly that drew a lot of positive and negative reactions across the political divide.

But that singular exercise threw up an interesting template with which the Imo people have been interrogating candidates who aspire to occupy Douglas House. Ndi Imo now demand that the leading candidates should present the scorecard of their accomplishments and how they have positively impacted the lives of Imo people in their present or past positions.

Interestingly the three leading contenders have spent a minimum of eight years, each in the National Assembly – Hope Uzodinma is currently serving out his second term in the Senate; Ifeanyi Ararume was in the Senate between 1999 and 2007; while Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha represented Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2015.

As expected, the candidates are making promises to fix the identified problems which the outgoing administration failed to attend to. Why should they be believed? Ndi Imo should “beware the naked man who offers you his shirt” (apologies Zig Ziglar) because each of the leading candidates must run on his records in public office and show Ndi Imo visible accomplishments within and beyond their respective senatorial zones, proof that the welfare of every Imo person has been on their minds long before seeking the office of the Governor. Which school did Uzodinma rebuild in Okigwe zone; which hospital did Ararume equip in Owerri zone; and which road did Ihedioha construct in Orlu zone?

Also Ndi Imo should beware of candidates who seem to be carrying baggage of character deficit; candidates with pending court cases bordering on fraud and misappropriation of public funds; and candidates with limited educational background; because after eight years of Okorocha’s maladministration that was criticized for lack of ethics, transparency and accountability, Imo people desire a breath of fresh air, a governor who is untainted, whose past is not opaque, and whose word is his bond.

So far Emeka Ihedioha towers above the rest. Across Imo State, he is affectionately addressed and referred to as Ome Nke Ahuru Anya (the one whose accomplishment is visible). Though he represented two Local Government Areas, (Aboh Mbaise and Ngor Okpala) in the House of Representatives, infrastructural development projects which he funded or attracted from the Federal Government cut across the three senatorial zones of Imo State.

He is reported to have attracted over 140 developmental projects to Imo state, from roads construction, to schools rehabilitation, hospitals renovation, equipment of schools with ICT, water supply and power projects, amongst others. Interestingly, across party divide, no one or party has refuted these claims in the past four years.

Some of these projects across the state are the following: the N6.2 billion, 59 kilometre Mbaise ring road, which cuts across three Local Government Areas; Dualisation of the Owerri/Elele road at the cost of N26 billion; building of cassava processing plants at Ihioma in orlu LGA and Umuna, Onuimo in Okigwe zone; construction of Isinweke-Ihitte/Uboma road in Okigwe zone; construction of a modern waste re-cycling plant in Ohaji/Egbema LGA, Orlu zone; Okpala-igwerinta road, connecting Imo state with Rivers state; reconstruction of Owerri-Aba road;
Canalization/Desilting and Dredging of Oguta lake/Obana/okposha River; procurement and construction of 42.10kva of 11kilometer of overhead line at new Owerri 2 and 15MVA, 33/11 Injection Sub Station; construction of lecture hall at Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri; construction of advanced digital access for tertiary institutions with 110 computers, with E-learning facilities at Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri. The list is endless.

In the area of human development, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha facilitated the employment of 201 Imo sons and daughters in Federal Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, out of which 161 are university and polytechnic graduates while 40 are secondary school certificate holders; he facilitated 22 overseas scholarships to Imo students, two for post-graduate while 20 were for undergraduate studies.

So, when Emeka Ihedioha makes a clarion call to Ndi Imo to “reclaim the state from despondency and hopelessness” and pledges to “serve the best interest of our people,” his public service record is the testimony that voters need to validate his capacity to lead from the front.

The good people of Imo state who will cast votes to elect the next governor should remember the inimitable words of Chinua Achebe at an Odenigbo Lecture in Owerri, that “Echi Di Ime. Taa Bu Gboo”!

Charles Odibo is a Marketing and Communications Practitioner